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15 May 2019

The Socialist Inbox

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Tommy Robinson humiliated

On 3 May, Tommy Robinson, as part of his campaign to be elected as a North West England MEP, appeared in Middleton, Greater Manchester.

Middleton has a strong working-class community, many of whom have borne the brunt of the living standards crisis. Robinson's supporters will have felt the mood was ripe for his rhetoric.

Robinson speaks about the working class being ignored, mocked and side-lined by the elite. He regularly speaks of the betrayal by politicians of those working-class people who voted to leave the EU.

However, this is where his 'sympathy' towards the working class ends. He quite deliberately tries to pit working-class people against one another, including with his racist attacks on Muslims.

Local Labour Party members only heard about his appearance in Middleton the evening before it happened. One of the local Labour councillors, Kallum Nolan, was with me at the side of the crowd.

Suddenly, Robinson and a crew of his well-groomed henchmen (with cameras) appeared out of nowhere, demanding the councillor give him an interview. This usually is where Robinson attempts to belittle the interviewee.

I was stood directly in front of Kallum, but we were significantly outnumbered, with only three of us being in the close vicinity. The crowd was hostile and at one point Kallum was threatened with a beating.

The experience was frightening, and I had serious concerns for our safety. Kallum had no choice but to accept Robinson's request.

We stood firm, and Kallum calmly dismantled Robinson's carefully choreographed questions. He took Robinson's false argument about defending the working class and turned it against him.

Kallum stated he is a working-class lad from Middleton, he'd voted Leave, and was against a second referendum. He didn't see the fundamental division as being between races or nations, but between the working class and the ruling class.

He kept the argument to class struggle, and all Robinson's lines of attack were neutralised. His supporters started a lacklustre chant of "Tommy."

The attempt by Tommy Robinson to regain a profile presents a challenge to the workers' movement. He exploits the utter disillusionment that decades of neoliberalism and austerity have created. The trade unions should initiate a struggle for jobs, homes and services to win workers to a real alternative.

Above all, Labour councillors need to stop passing on Tory cuts, which have cost Labour dearly in the recent local elections.

Councillors should mobilise a trade union and community fightback to win back the billions stolen from us. In the meantime they should use reserves and borrowing powers to protect services, and build that fightback by showing what an anti-austerity programme means in practice.

This could fund new council housing, cash-strapped schools, youth services, well-paid jobs, and more. The council could fully pay for public services and housing, taking them all back into public ownership under the democratic control of workers and service users.

John McDonnell should pledge an incoming Corbyn-led government to reimburse councils who use reserves and borrowing in this way.

We need to loudly and boldly deliver a positive message to our class, that we need unity behind a socialist programme to deliver for workers. As always, actions speak louder than words.

A Labour Party member, Middleton

'This is England'

9 September 1991 was not like any other day on the Meadow Well Estate in North Shields. Three days earlier two young lads in a stolen car had been chased by the police, crashing on the coast road and killing these two teenagers in what could only be described as an inferno.

There was rage because of the perception that the police had forced these two young men off the road intentionally. It took three days for a further explosion on the estate to arrive, shops were looted and buildings were set on fire.

A youth centre, fish and chip shop and electricity substation were all destroyed. The police and fire service on attendance were unfortunately attacked by an estimated 400-strong crowd, with these services retreating for their own safety in the end. The Meadow Well - which still to this day remains one of the most deprived areas in a region that is the most deprived in the UK - is attempting to rid itself of this reputation.

However, life expectancy in the area is eleven years lower than the next ward just 1,500 yards away. Until six months ago there were no play areas on the estate, the residents along with the community centre which rose from the ashes of the riots, raised cash that they could not afford and got some very basic facilities on a grassed area. So, for a population on the estate of 11,000 there is just one play area. There are also still major challenges on the estate, with families struggling to cope with economic deprivation, the government's austerity measures, welfare reforms and bedroom tax and of course, Labour councillors who have been totally ineffective to say the least!

There are many on the estate that rely on the food banks at the Meadow Well 'connected centre' where I attend from time to time with an art project. Statistics now show that over four million children and 14 million adults are living in poverty. This is a disgrace and the draconian Universal Credit system is making people in areas like the Meadow Well even more vulnerable.

So with all the rhetoric from Tory ministers, they should climb down from their ivory towers and actually pay a visit to the see for themselves, but of course they won't. We are often accused of being the merchants of doom, quite the contrary we tell it as it is. This 1930's housing estate will be recognised up and down the land and sadly, is waiting to explode again; it just needs a match!

Peter Robson, North Tyneside

BT bullies

The article 'France Telecom: Privatisation in the dock following suicides allegedly caused by the bosses' in the Socialist issue 1040 on the spate of suicides in France Telecom will come as no surprise to Communication Workers Union activists in British Telecom (BT). It was already known many years ago.

While the consequences of the privatisation of France Telecom may have been particularly brutal, the broad thrust of bullying management and attempts at eroding workers' dignity and self-confidence also happened to a large degree at BT.

Any union rep who had members in stats-obsessed customer facing units can tell stories of union members breaking down in tears in union offices as a result of sustained and intense pressure from management aimed at 'managing people out of the business'. It was always wise to keep a large box of tissues in the office.

Many workers were signed off with stress, many had difficulty sleeping, and virtually all dreaded coming to work. Some did indeed contemplate suicide.

Managers in BT tried to convince workers that they weren't up to their job and perhaps they should think about leaving.

A favourite tactic was managers 'bumping into' targeted workers in the car park and trying to convince them that they ought to leave. They particularly liked to do this as a worker was going on leave so they spent their whole family holiday worrying about work.

They would often 'convince' workers to sign a confidentiality agreement waiving their rights to an employment tribunal in return for three or four months' salary. There may not have been so many suicides in Britain but the psychological destruction inflicted by managers was the same.

It is welcoming that the senior managers at France Telecom are to face criminal charges arising from their management methods and it is an example that Jeremy Corbyn should follow if he becomes prime minister.

If it can be proved that management bullying was directly linked to the death of a worker, that manager has committed manslaughter just the same as if a worker had been forced to use dangerous machinery and should be charged accordingly.

The real solution, however, is to take these industries back into public ownership and drive these managers out of the workplace and off our backs.

Clive Walder, Birmingham